In translating the novel Forty Lost Years into English, Fum d’Estampa Press and Peter Bush have gifted Anglophone readers a forgotten gem of twentieth century fiction that not only offers us a fresh view on the effects of the Spanish Civil War, the ensuing exile many were forced into and Franco’s dictatorship, but also a text which remains strikingly relevant and present.
First published in Catalan as Quaranta anys perduts in 1971, and enjoying a second wind when republished in 2016, Forty Lost Years is narrated by Laura Vidal and covers forty years of her life, starting in the 1930s when she is a young adolescent.
The Others is an irreverent yet poignant novel by Raül Garrigasait, excellently translated from the Catalan by Tiago Miller. Its central character is a young Prussian man who crosses Europe to fight for the Carlists in Spain. Though set largely during a war in the early nineteenth century, The Others shines in its ruminations on humanity which echo as true today as ever.
“Wielemann threw himself head first into the pandemonium once again.” (p.99)
Although he is pushed towards the Iberian Peninsula by his family’s expectations, Rudolf von Wielemann believes in the Carlist cause, or at least in what he believes it represents. Over the course of his adventures in Catalonia, his preconceptions and principles will be challenged, and so, too, perhaps, will the reader’s.
When the serendipities of war send him to the small town of Solsona, his war experience turns out to have little to with principles or, indeed, war. Sidelined from the action, Wielemann finds himself a foreigner in a strange land filled with eccentric characters, most of whom he struggles to communicate with. It is no coincidence that the author himself is a translator, something mentioned in the book, with themes of identity, language and belonging explored.
“When the wind blows, I think about all the grains of sand it’s carrying from the deserts of Africa and the steppes of Russia, and about all the creatures that have seen those grains and ingested and excreted them.” (p.98)
In the commotion of chance and happenstance, infused with the monotony of war away from the frontline, the Prussian’s experience is often like he has stepped into a delirious nightmare where things happen to him, if they happen at all, and his agency is stripped of him, along with the lifeline of a letter from his uncle.
Wielemann went to Catalonia to fight for the ‘Order’, for the supremacy of Catholic doctrine and an absolute monarchy. This novel is set in the midst of the First Carlist War, when conservative Carlists fought for the right of Charles Maria Isidre de Borbó to the throne, while the more progressive Liberals fought for the regent Maria Christina, who acted for the deceased king’s daughter, Isabella II.
In Solsona, however, these divisions and the very foundations of the war become blurred for Wielemann and perhaps the only person he can relate to in the town is Miquel Foraster, a Liberal doctor. Despite diverging on certain nuances of ideology or theology, the doctor is someone Wielemann can have a conversation with in this strange land he has ended up in by the whims of fate, and his company is a refuge.
“Why, saints carved out of wood have done more in this world than any real-life saint ever has. And tell me, why shouldn’t we find that marvellous?” (p.79)
The dialogues that Wielemann and Foraster share are some of the book’s best moments and highlight the stupidity of man, the futility of war and just how little humans have really changed in almost two centuries.
While Foraster is an intellectual equal, many of the others Wielemann encounters on his travels are not and translator Tiago Miller handles these shifts in register, while conveying the linguistic barriers the protagonist faces, with aplomb.
More so than being a war novel, for Wielemann sees little fighting for much of the book, this work speaks to travel, the condition of being an outsider, the nature of conflict and the root of ideologies and power.
“Sometimes I think that’s all the Carlists were: a group of friends defending their collective memories through the use of arms.” (p.49)
The Spanish Inquisition also makes a sneaky appearance or two in the book as we see characters wrestle with the malleable concepts of faith, cynicism, tradition and modernity.
Once more, the triumph of Garrigasait’s novel is in making nineteenth century material feel so relevant. Many of the debates of the day, with words changed here and there, are not so different from the questions society still faces.
The narrative is also pulled back to the modern day in the short auto-fictional chapters inserted here and there detailing Garrigasait’s experiences researching the source material, which he came upon by chance, which seems appropriate given Wielemann’s tale.
“The students standing at the back stifled yawns, as impervious to the rhetoric of angels as to that of the devil.”(p.107)
The Others is a witty, pensive novel that finds sincerity in absurdity and vice versa. It evokes a time and a place that is oddly relatable, at once lost and still all around us.
Interview with the author and translator
Translator Tiago Miller reading an excerpt from The Others by Raül Garrigasait
The Others by Raül Garrigasait| Translated by Tiago Miller | Fum d’Estampa Press PB 200 pages 15 May 2021 ISBN 978-1913744007
ANDREW MCDOUGALL was born in Glasgow and studied Portuguese and English literature at the University of Edinburgh. He has also lived in Sussex, Lisbon, Coimbra, Logroño, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Norwich, where he completed an MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia. His work has included co-translating a book by José Eduardo Agualusa and translating a chapter by Ana Cristina Silva as part of the Escape Goat project, on which he also collaborated as an editor. Other published translations include short fiction by Clodie Vasli, Decio Zylbersztajn and Gabriela Ruivo Trindade. He translates from Portuguese and Spanish.
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“When you’re rooted in yourself, you feel settled wherever you go. I guess to feel good we need to find places to adapt to. Except once we’ve adapted we need to move on, to find a new place to adapt to. But once you’ve adapted to several different places, you no longer have one place where you belong. That’s when the place where you belong becomes the space between those two different places. Moving around and seeing new places — that’s my natural habitat. The truth is I’m a nomad.” So speaks Roberto, train steward on the high-speed Talgo.
Modern society is becoming increasingly rootless and uniformist, as the forces of global capitalism, increased migration and social pluralism influence work, lifestyle and beliefs. Economic migration is spurring rapid social change, leading to ambiguity about identity, sense of place in the world and a cultural dissonance. As governments lose touch with their citizens, they ignore to their peril how groups that are ignored, or ostracised, become desperate, rebellious and take direct action. Humans need to belong to a social group, to be heard, make sense of their identity, and develop a sense of belonging — a sense of purpose. In a shifting world, no wonder social networking on the internet is so huge.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I grew up in Barcelona. When I was twenty three I went to the Netherlands for a couple of months and I ended up staying there for twelve years. Now I am back home for seven years already, but I still feel like I am a bit Dutch.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? As a teenager I saw myself as a teacher. As a child, I don’t remember.
What books have had a lasting impact on you? When I was a teenager I read everything from Edgar Allan Poe and his tales made me want to write. Later on, when I was in art school in Barcelona, I read Opera aperta by Umberto Eco. That book helped me understand why I liked some books better than others. And when years later I started writing, it helped me see that I was doing it fine by doing my own way without thinking about who was going to read my words.